Archive for the ‘Cuisine: Japanese’ Category

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Izakaya Sundays at Sebo

November 12, 2007

Well over a year ago, I wrote a post on a then recently-opened Japanese restaurant (primarily sushi-focused), Sebo in Hayes Valley. I haven’t had the chance to write a follow-up review, but I’m happy to report that an update has not really been necessary, as chefs Michael Black and Danny Dunham continue to offer excellent quality fish; in time, it seems they have been able to source more frequently particularly delectable items such as Hokkaido uni. In the past week, though, changes have been afoot at Sebo, and these changes warrant an update. The first notable change is that Fukashi Adachi from Deep Sushi in outer Noe Valley has joined the ranks. The other notable change is that the restaurant is now open on Sundays (previously only open Tuesday through Saturday). On Sundays, however, no sushi is served. As proof, here is the empty fish cabinet:

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Instead, the regular menu is replaced by a list of about 15 izakaya small plates — essentially Japanese “bar bites.” The Sunday izakaya menu will change weekly, and yesterday was the very first Sunday serving. (Note: full-sized versions of all these images are stored on my Flickr account. To see the larger version, just click through any image link.)

The first plate was the delicately flavored ni-daikon,

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which was the daikon simmered in sake. There was also the goya chanpuru, a stir fry of Okinawan bittermelon:

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One standout item was the aji ichiyaboshi,

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a whole horse mackerel fish: cured, toasted, butterflied, and mostly completely edible. Toasting amplified the natural flavors of the fish, and the thin, crisp skin was a nice foil to the moist interior flesh. Another standout dish was the inari yaki:

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The inari wrappers were filled with natto (fermented soybeans), grilled, and topped with green onion. Even if you are squeamish about eating natto, I would recommend trying this dish, as the grilled wrapper was a really nice complement to the more pungent natto.

One of the great highlights of the meal was the homemade tamago yaki (Japanese egg omelette). Most sushi restaurants will serve tamago nigiri, but this can often be lackluster. The process of making the omelette is so time-consuming that few restaurants will make it in-house, so was a real treat to try not one but two homemade tamago samples at the Sunday izakaya meal, courtesy of Fukashi Adachi:

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These blocks of tamago are a work of art, as I am told that they emerged from cooking exactly in the perfect form you see in the above picture. The block on the left is an omelette infused with slivers of the green seaweed ao-nori, while the flavor of the block on the right literally sang of dashi. Both samples were delicious, complex, and had a very nice texture: firm, but with a latent juiciness. This is easily some of the best tamago currently being served in the Bay Area. Here is a close-up shot of the ao-nori tamago:

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And once more, the tamago, but served on a plate:

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Yesterday was the very first izakaya Sunday and the restaurant was, rather surprisingly, packed for much of the night, so the cooking pace was rather frantic. However, I am sure that Michael, Danny, and Fukashi will work out the operational acrobatics in time. Even on this first day, the dishes were really nice, so I am looking forward to seeing this new tradition evolve and mature. With the izakaya Sundays, Michael and Danny have continued to demonstrate their passion for serving their customers a serious, high-quality product.

RATING:

COST:

517 Hayes Street (between Octavia St. and Laguna St.)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: 415.864.2122
Hours: Tues-Sat (sushi menu), 6:00-10:30 pm; Sun (izakaya menu, no sushi), 6:00-11:00 pm.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley/Civic Center

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Dinner Specials at Mikaku

July 21, 2007

Whew, it sure has been a long time since a post! Sorry folks, real life has caught up with us recently, but we promise to get going again soon, back to more regular programming. We figured a new post was especially appropriate for today, because this weekend, our blogging platform WordPress is hosting the entertaining, informative, and pretty-darn-geeky WordCamp conference in San Francisco. Short Exact is right now sitting in the antique Swedish-American Hall on Market Street (which, sadly, doesn’t have nearly enough outlets for laptops!), blogging from WordCamp about… the dinner specials at the Mikaku restaurant, which have absolutely nothing to do with WordCamp!

In an earlier post about Mikaku (a Japanese restaurant located right next to the Chinatown gate), we mentioned the chirashi, slices of fish carefully layered atop sushi rice. On a recent visit, we had the opportunity to try a couple of the dinner specials written on the white board located just east of the sushi bar; the restaurant really shines in its preparation of these specials.

At dinnertime only, Mikaku offers house-made soba (buckwheat) noodles. The noodles, which are served cold in the form of zaru soba,

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had a nice bounce and texture, easily superior to the soba noodles offered at many of the more popular noodle houses in Japantown. The noodles are served with the tsuyu dipping sauce, a refreshing and light yet robust combination of soy sauce, dashi, and the sweet rice wine mirin. Perhaps best of all, Mikaku also serves the traditional sobayu,

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which is the water in which the soba noodles were just boiled. Pouring the sobayu into the cup containing the leftover tsuyu dipping sauce makes for a delicious drink and is an excellent way to cap off a plate of soba noodles.

We also sampled the chawanmushi,

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a traditional savory Japanese egg custard with surprise fish, meat and vegetables inside the custard that are to be unearthed. The chawanmushi we had at Mikaku, which included crab and chicken, was a delight, with a clean egg flavor that was a good complement to the other ingredients. Mikaku’s rendition of this dish is quite nice.

At a standard dinner, Mikaku offers at least a dozen specials. Recently, in addition to the soba noodles and chawanmushi mentioned here, we’ve seen daikon soup, dishes involving yam and kabocha (“Japanese pumpkin”), different preparations of clams, and hirame usuzukuri, which are paper thin slices of fluke sashimi dressed in a very light ponzu sauce. Although Mikaku’s menu has all the standard tempura, teriyaki, and sushi roll combination deals that Americans have come to expect from Japanese restaurants, the skill of both the sushi chef and the kitchen are most clearly displayed in these authentic specialties, and we’re glad to have gotten the chance to sample Mikaku’s versions of these dishes. “Averaging” this with our previous visits to Mikaku, an upgrade of Mikaku’s rating is definitely in order:

RATING:

COST:

Please scroll to the bottom of our original review for the restaurant hours and contact information.

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Sushi Delight

June 19, 2007

The other night, Short Exact and a friend were on the escalator leaving Church Street station on the hunt for dinner, when our friend revealed that we would be eating at her new favorite sushi bar. At that point, Short Exact groaned both inwardly and outwardly, recalling a lackluster experience from the last time we went to her “new favorite sushi bar” (somewhere different at that time) — an opinion, it turned out, was formed exclusively on the basis of a few Yelp reviews, rather than any sort of personal experience. This time we were quick to make sure that a prior visit had occurred at some point.

When it was further revealed that the restaurant in question this time around was next door (and actually connected) to The Mint karaoke bar, and that it had the somewhat corny name Sushi Delight (rather than having a name which is, you know, Japanese or something) — well, suffice it to say that of all the emotions we were feeling at that moment, delight was nowhere on the list.

So imagine our surprise when we walked in to find a white board list of specials that included items such as uni (sea urchin) and ankimo (monkfish liver). Not that these items are particularly rare, but seeing as how this restaurant also has a long list of huge Americanized rolls with “crazy” ingredients, we were expecting lots of fusion, and not as much in the way of our favorite, more traditional items. It was, of course, necessary to try out a few of these specials:

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The hamachi belly (middle, in the above photo) was pretty good quality with a somewhat buttery texture, but it should have had a stronger flavor. The mound of sushi rice on which the fish slice rested was too large, and the rice itself was not very flavorful, and did little to support or complement the fish. An uninteresting sort of ponzu sauce largely overpowered the mild ankimo (on the right), but the liver did have a reasonably nice, creamy texture. The uni (on the left) also had a pretty good texture, but only brief wisps of uni’s characteristically briny flavor. Not a bad sample, though, and best of all, it was not the least bit bitter, which is the usual worry when ordering uni at an unfamiliar restaurant. So, while none of these special items were stunning, they were all of at least decent quality, and as we said earlier, finding them at all was a pleasant surprise.

We also tried the maguro sashimi,

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which, despite the attempt at a slightly creative presentation, was completely unremarkable; the fish was tasteless and was served too cold. For kicks, we sampled one item from the extensive roll menu,

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the “gari saba” roll, consisting of mackerel, ginger, and a little scallion. This was a pretty good roll, but the mackerel was unusually sweet, and the overall flavor of the roll turned out to be surprisingly mild, considerings its core ingredients, perhaps in part due to the outer layer of the rice, which was disproportionately thick. It wasn’t bad, but we probably wouldn’t order it again. (Readers should also note that this is one of the more conservative rolls on the menu. If you’re interested in the more complicated rolls with lots of ingredients, Sushi Delight has plenty of those you can try.)

Service here was fine, although the restaurant was not that full, so we’re not sure how the service holds up under pressure. Still, the number of patrons can be deceiving, because it looks like quite a few people from the karaoke bar next door also put in orders, even if they do not sit in the actual restaurant. The karaoke bar The Mint, which is connected to the restaurant by a door, is a little noisy, but not horribly so; the soundproofing still makes it easy to have a conversation. The restaurant’s late hours are definitely a plus.

Sushi Delight is in a location such that the exact classification of the neighborhood largely depends on who you ask. Upper Market for sure, but is it Hayes Valley? Essentially, but not especially close to the heart of that neighborhood. Duboce Triangle? Close, but it seems just outside of the traditional boundaries of the Triangle. We’ve filed this post in those two neighborhoods, figuring that this restaurant might be of interest to people in both locales. Whatever you call the neighborhood, Sushi Delight is a decent neighborhood joint. For us, it would be a stretch to call it delightful, but it’s a good choice if you’re in the area with a hankering for sushi.

RATING:

COST:

1946 Market Street (between Buchanan St. and Laguna St.)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: 415.621.3622
Hours: Sun-Thurs, 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm; Fri-Sat, 5:00 pm – 12:30 am.

Credit cards accepted. Takeout available.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley/Civic Center, Castro/Duboce Triangle

How to get there: Within a few blocks are Muni lines 6, 7, 22, 37, 71, F, J, N. Church Station (lines K, L, M, T) is a short walk away.

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Kaygetsu

May 17, 2007

It seems hard to believe that one of the Bay Area’s best Japanese restaurants is located in a quiet strip mall in the hills of the Peninsula city Menlo Park, and yet, this is the case — sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Located in a strip mall off of Sand Hill Road, with Safeway and Longs as its neighbors, the small restaurant Kaygetsu is a hidden gem of the first order. It leads a mild-mannered existence, quietly serving diners one of the finest kaiseki menus (perhaps the very finest) to be found in the Bay Area. Kaiseki, a tradition originating in Kyoto, is a multi-course meal originally intended to accompany the tea ceremony. It has since evolved away from its tea ceremony origins, but there is a focus on careful preparations of seasonal ingredients. True kaiseki is an art form unto itself, an exquisite combination of art, beauty, and cuisine working together in perfect harmony.

The focal point of Kaygetsu’s mission is to provide an authentic, high quality kaiseki menu. The menu changes every six weeks (twice each season) and directly reflects the fish and vegetables that are in season at the time. These menus are constructed by Kaygetsu’s kaiseki chefs, Shinichi Aoki and Katsuhiro Yamasaki, both trained in Kyoto. The focus on kaiseki is no small feat in this corner of the world, whose population largely views Japanese cuisine as consisting exclusively of tempura, teriyaki, and sushi — or so you’d think by looking at the menus of most Bay Area Japanese restaurants. Now, Kaygetsu does have a sushi bar in the corner with a separate sushi menu (consisting mostly of nigiri and a few token rolls, of the simpler, more traditional variety such as tekka maki — no crazy Dragon Rolls here!), and several a la carte cooked dishes are also offered — but the raison d’etre is really the kaiseki menu.

We will get to the kaiseki in just a bit, but there is one other important thing to note. Although Kaygetsu focuses on kaiseki, Toshi-san, the itamae at the sushi bar, is one of the finest sushi chefs to be found in the Bay Area. It is a pleasure to watch his hands, nimble and deft, form, within just a few seconds, masterpieces of nigiri sushi construction — dead-on precise slicing of the fish, and perfectly proportioned fish and rice. Like kaiseki, the craft of sushi is another art form of sorts, and watching Toshi-san rapidly but expertly sculpt perfectly-sized pieces of nigirizushi is a treat. The fish at Kaygetsu is of very high quality, but it is also expensive. A combination of the high quality fish and the fact that this restaurant does not focus on sushi contributes to the high prices; a single piece of nigiri is usually at least $3.50, and much more than that for the “market value” items. Toshi-san does not keep a really extensive fish supply, but he has a few special items which might appear in the sashimi course of the kaiseki. The selection is still much better than what you would find at your average neighborhood corner sushi restaurant, but because of the focus on kaiseki, the selection is not as stellar as you might think it would be, given the quality of the fish. The somewhat smaller fish supply prevents the sushi bar at Kaygetsu from attaining the legendary status of the old sushi bar at Anzu under the helm of Takahashi-san (who, regularly, on a good evening, carried at least few dozen distinct fish types, some quite difficult to find elsewhere) — sadly defunct and very much missed, since Takahashi-san has left San Francisco. Nonetheless, in terms of chef skill and fish quality, Kaygetsu’s bar is one of the best, most authentically Japanese sushi bars to be found in the Bay Area, and it definitely warrants a separate trip.

Enough about sushi, though: we had our eyes set on kaiseki. The kaiseki experience is subdued in atmosphere, but sublime in terms of the cuisine, making it an excellent choice for a Mother’s Day dinner last week. We had the late spring kaiseki menu, which features 6 courses, followed by a final dessert course. First up was the sakizuke starter course, which featured three delectable, carefully-presented morsels:

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From left to right in the picture: (1) amaebi (sweet shrimp) enveloped in gelatin, (2) sea urchin and kisu, served fried, with fava beans, and (3) perfectly seared slices of white tuna topped with a light sauce from shiitake mushrooms.

The starter course was immediately followed by a seasonal assortment of sashimi (served with fresh wasabi): a delicate preparation of snapper, treated with the lightest ponzu sauce,

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and slices of hon maguro (blue fin tuna) and shimaaji (stripe jack):

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The hon maguro was rich and almost pillowy, while the shimaaji had an excellent texture: just the right level of firmness and initial resistance that melted away after a few seconds, with a bright lift in the flavor occurring later in the process of chewing. All three specimens of fish were very good.

Next was the takiawase course, which featured assorted slow-cooked vegetables:

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Included are dried tofu, bok choy, fuki (giant butterbur), konnyaku (a potato-like vegetable in the taro family that is valued for its medicinal properties), and kabocha squash. A delicate preparation of these excellent ingredients masterfully preserved the individual taste and texture of each component, with the clear fish broth tying together all elements of the dish. Highlights here included the lovely sweetness of the kabocha squash, and the distinctly sponge-like texture of the tofu: upon biting the tofu, a small rush of broth would leak out, much like a sponge. The release of liquid invites at least a small comparison to the rush of soup that comes from biting into a xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumpling), but this version is more subtle and nurturing.

The fourth course was the sunomono,

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with barely blanched fresh octopus and white kikurage mushrooms, which had a thin, wonderfully elusive, chewy texture. Both octopus and mushroom paired well with the plum sauce, which was not the least bit cloying.

The yaki mono was attractively displayed,

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featuring delicious, colorful, perfectly cooked vegetables (including potato, daikon, and bamboo shoots) layered atop a piece of domestic Kobe beef from the Snake River area. Although the beef was slightly tough, it was also highly flavorful, with nice notes of ginger and soy.

The sixth course, and the last of the main meal courses, was the gohan mono, which included a hearty, nurturing dark red miso soup with a touch of mustard, and a small bowl of rice cooked with tender asari clams:

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The seventh and last course was the dessert course:

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A black sesame gelatin was served with pristine strawberry slices, resting in a pool of kuromitsu, which is essentially a Japanese molasses. The flavors here complemented each other perfectly, and the dessert was an excellent end to the meal.

This is one of the best, if not the very best, kaiseki experience to be had in the Bay Area. We’ve never been to Kyoto, so we can’t compare this to the original, but this is definitely the best kaiseki experience we’ve ever had. As you might expect, it does not come cheaply — as of writing this review, the kaiseki menu is $95 per person, with an optional $34 sake pairing (we did not order this). There is also a 17% service charge automatically added to the bill, which functions in lieu of a gratuity. Obviously this is not an everyday sort of meal, but it is a wonderful experience for a special occasion, and we feel that the quality justifies the price. It’s also probably a bargain compared to what this might cost in Kyoto, and there’s no airfare. The menu featured a diverse set of dishes, excellent ingredients that were carefully prepared, and lovely presentation. In addition, the service was excellent. Our server was very knowledgeable about every detail of each course, and he paced the delivery of the courses well, allowing enough time for us to savor each dish and enjoy conversation, but never leaving us wondering when the next course would come. In terms of both the service and the food, Kaygetsu offers a first-rate dining experience. Bravo.

RATING:

COST:

325 Sharon Park Drive (near Sand Hill Rd.)
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Phone: 650.234.1084
Hours: Tues-Fri, 11:30 am – 2:00 pm; Tues-Sun, 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm. Closed Mondays.
A note on reservations: Kaiseki (dinner only) requires that reservations be made 48 hours in advance, but because the restaurant is small, you may want to allow even more time, to help ensure you get the time slot you want. Since the kaiseki meal does take at least a couple hours, only a limited number of seatings are available each night.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Menlo Park

How to get there: Kaygetsu is not at all in a transit-friendly location, so we can’t provide detailed public transit info like we usually do. The restaurant is located on the free Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) Marguerite shuttle bus line, so it’s not impossible to reach via transit, but for all practical purposes, you will probably just want to carpool.

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Yo’s Sushi Club

April 4, 2007

Yo’s Sushi Club is a sushiya in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, on Mission Street, directly across the street from the Safeway at 30th and Mission. Despite being located directly on one of San Francisco’s great boulevards, this small sliver of a restaurant has a bit of a secret or “hideaway” feel to it. One reason we might feel this way though is because this is a neighborhood we do not have the opportunity to visit very often, which is a shame, because interesting surprises seem to lurk at the most unsuspecting corners, and Yo’s Sushi Club turned out to be a nice surprise. This is as good of a time as any to drop a note of thanks to Sean, writer of the blog Hedonia, as it was his complimentary words about this restaurant and its sushi chef that convinced us to file Yo’s Sushi Club away in the back of our mind until the day arrived when we were able to make it to Bernal Heights.

That day came recently, and we had a great meal at Yo’s Sushi Club. The friendly service and the simple, traditional, no-gimmicks feel of this restaurant provide a very relaxing way to unwind after a busy day. Yo’s is definitely a sushiya, so if you’re expecting teriyaki, chicken karaage, and lots of cooked dishes, you will be disappointed. The focus is mostly on traditional sushi: nigiri, along with simpler rolls. There are a few forays into fusion territory — such as “voodoo salmon” (involving spicy salmon and shiso), which sounded interesting, although we did not get a chance to try it — but the focus here is really on the fish. Just the way we like it.

As we often will, Short Exact started off with a lighter white fish — a pristine order of hirame (halibut),

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These pieces of nigiri, appropriately dressed with ponzu and a shiso leaf, had just the right level of firmness. This was good quality fish, rather delicately sliced, and featuring a clean, well-balanced flavor, and a touch of the lightest sweetness. It was a very nice way to open the meal. The hirame was followed by an order of aji (horse mackerel) nigiri — again, nice, firm pieces cut at just the right thickness, with a delicately vinegared flavor supplemented by its garnishes:

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Short Exact got caught up in conversation with the chef about something completely different, so we never got the chance to inquire about the source of the the uni (sea urchin), but our guess is that it was from Mendocino rather than Santa Barbara; so it did not have that almost milky creaminess, but this was still a nice specimen, as its briny flavor was spot on and extremely satisfying.

We chose a richer item to round off the meal. Generous cubes of a relatively complex-flavored, almost creamy ankimo (monkfish liver),

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were perched atop of bed of rice and wrapped in seaweed, in the form of a gunkan maki, featuring all the usual garnishes and the slightly unusual addition of a shiso leaf, which did not at all distract from the ankimo, initially, at least. Rather, it added a cool finish that furnished a nice contrast to the richer liver — although it also cut off the lingering flavor of the ankimo a little sooner than we might have liked.

The sushi chef was warm, welcoming and very enjoyable to talk to throughout the meal. The atmosphere was quiet and pleasant, the service was courteous, our tea cup was always kept warm and filled, and there was good fish offered at extremely reasonable prices. And, there is one additional perk of Yo’s: the frequent buyer card. You receive a stamp for each $10 purchase, and after 10 stamps, you can redeem the card for a 15% deduction off your next visit’s bill. Not too shabby, eh?

We appreciate that Yo’s carries a selection of fish (including the uni, ankimo, and the giant clam mirugai, which we did not get a chance to sample) that is a cut above the very basic standards stocked by every sushi bar in the world. You won’t find especially “high end” items (such as house marinated ikura, or the akami red meat cut of a blue fin tuna), but what you will find is above average selection, and most importantly, good quality fish paired with appropriately flavored rice, and sound sushi construction. Although the relatively low level of traffic in this neighborhood might prevent him from being able to carry more unique items, it is clear that this chef cares deeply about maintaining a quality operation.

We would not hesitate to drop by Yo’s again whenever we are in the neighborhood, and thanks to the frequent buyer card, a return visit here is pretty much a guarantee.

RATING:

COST:

3369 Mission Street (at Godeus St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.824.1215
Hours: Mon-Thurs, 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30 pm – 11:00 pm. Closed Sundays.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Bernal Heights

How to get there: Muni lines: 14, 24, 26, 49, 67, and J. Restaurant is about 3/4 of a mile from the 24 Street Mission BART station.

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Genki Ramen

March 21, 2007

For some reason, despite the mostly clear and relatively warm weather we’ve been having in the Bay Area the past several days, Short Exact has gotten into a bit of a noodle soup fix lately. First, it was a Hong Kong noodle soup with those excellent shrimp dumplings. Next up was the Northern Vietnamese-style chicken pho. Having already covered two different nations’ takes on the noodle soup, we turn next to a famous noodle soup of a third nation. Of course, that nation is Japan, and the soup is ramen.

There is an interesting little shop on Clement Street in the Inner Richmond called Genki. This shop is a combination of a crepe place, tapioca milk tea joint, and a convenience store, and it even has a few tables, just in case you would like to eat your crepe at a small cramped table sitting in the middle of a busy doorway. We’ve dropped by that store from time to time for the tapioca milk tea (though we still haven’t ordered a crepe), and so when we first learned that the folks at Genki were going to open a new restaurant devoted to ramen, we knew that we’d have to try it sooner rather than later.

The Genki Ramen restaurant (essentially one long block away from the crepe store — on Geary, not Clement) exhibits a noticeable increase in style over the crepe store on Clement, opting for a more modern design, with TV screens encircling the room to entertain you while you eat. We found the service here to be reasonably helpful and for the most part attentive (our tea cup was mostly kept warm and filled) — perhaps on the inexperienced side, but we were expecting that for a new restaurant. The menu, on the other hand, is more interesting. Most Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area will offer sushi, even if that is not their true specialty, usually because it seems that many people equate Japanese cuisine with sushi. So it is very refreshing to see that Genki Ramen does not offer any sushi, but instead concentrates on ramen and other aspects of Japanese cuisine. Of course, there are several options for ramen (ranging from the traditional chashu pork ramen to crab leg ramen, tempura ramen, chicken karaage ramen, and many others), but there is also a collection of about two dozen grilled robata items of all varieties (fish, meat, and vegetable), in addition to yakisoba noodles, okonomiyaki, and other dishes. However, this entire menu is only available at dinnertime. At lunch, only the ramen and a few small side orders (such as gyoza) are available. Prices for a bowl of soup here are definitely above average (most soup bowls are in the $8-9 range), but the portion sizes are also quite hefty; sharing a bowl of ramen with a friend, combined with a couple of side orders, made for a filling meal.

Actually, we had the opportunity recently to make two separate visits to Genki Ramen: once at dinner, and another time at lunch. Our first visit was at dinner, and we ordered the mabo tofu ramen:

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All in all, this was quite a decent soup. The flavor of the broth was robust, hearty, and spicy, in just the way that you would expect from mabo tofu, although it was also not nearly as subtle a broth as we prefer for ramen. Still, as you see in the photo, the soup is swamped with tofu, and also many bits of some pretty unremarkable pork. The noodles were good though, in that they retained that nice toothsome quality for at least most of the meal. Also interested in sampling the robata, we tried the lamb chop:

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The lamb here was very nice: perfectly cooked, the meat was moist and flavorful. It was served with a subtly teasing mint dipping sauce that tasted good on its own, but oddly enough did very little to enhance the lamb. The pairing of lamb and mint is common, but it did not add much to this dish. Still, our first taste of Genki’s robata menu definitely piqued our interest.

Our second visit to Genki Ramen occurred roughly two or three weeks after the first visit, and this second visit was at lunch, so we ordered the lunch special, which consisted of a bowl of ramen and a small side. We chose the shrimp tempura ramen (which also included some pieces of yam tempura),

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served with the side order of a pair of gyoza:

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Just as ramen is the Japanese take on Chinese noodles, gyoza is the Japanese take on the Chinese dumpling, and it gets it name from the Chinese word jiaozi. These gyoza were decent: light and flavorful, if somewhat inexpertly constructed. The main event, though, was of course the tempura ramen, and unfortunately, this bowl was not as successful as the soup we ordered at dinner a couple weeks earlier. To be honest, we were a bit worried about how tempura sitting in a bowl of broth would turn out, but we were curious to see what the kitchen would turn out for us, without any interference. Our silence was really a test of the kitchen, to see how well the bowl was arranged, or to see if they would think in advance to put the tempura on the side. However, the tempura was not put on the side, and while the pieces sitting on top of the noodles outside of the broth had a good crunch, the tempura that were partially or completely submerged in the broth immediately took on a mushy, rather unappetizing texture. Unfortunately, about half of the provided tempura fell into the latter category. The tempura itself was not very flavorful, and the batter was way too thick — so the tempura sitting in broth essentially produced tasteless globs of an excessive amount of batter. The noodles were pretty good; they turned too mushy in the middle of bowl, but they at least started off with a good al dente chewiness. The broth? Also pretty good. It did the job and was reasonably tasty, but it was not especially complex. All in all, we didn’t like this ramen as much as we did the mabo tofu, and if we ordered it again, we would definitely ask for the tempura on the side, to curb the mushy batter tendency.

In general, we prefer ramen to be endowed with more serious and traditional Japanese flavors than what Genki is serving. We won’t discount a restaurant simply because it isn’t authentic, but the catch is that there has to be something convincing on the creative/fusion end to make the cuisine more interesting and substantial. Unfortunately, Genki Ramen has not yet followed through with this. The ramen is decent, and you could definitely do worse than Genki, but outstanding ramen is really all about the subtlety, right down to a complex broth; even the way that the ingredients are arranged in the bowl makes a difference. Genki’s soups are tasty, based on what we have sampled, but they are not yet performing at this level. That being said, there is potential, and this is a relatively new restaurant (just a few months old, as of writing this review), so we will continue to follow it from time to time. If nothing else, the general lack of decent ramen in this part of town (which we visit pretty regularly) will most likely bring us back in the future, and we’re hoping to see some improvement as the restaurant settles into its operation with more confidence.

RATING:

COST:

3944 Geary Boulevard (near 4th Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94118
Phone: 415.752.2663
Hours: Daily, 11:30 am – 11:00 pm. (Note: Genki opened just a few months ago, as of writing this review, and in this period of time, the restaurant hours have already fluctuated a few times. It seems that the restaurant might be settling into these hours, but to be on the safe side, you may want to call in advance to double-check.)

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Inner Richmond

How to get there: Muni bus lines 1, 2, 4, 31, 33, 38, and 44.

h1

Sakana

March 7, 2007

Sakana is a Japanese restaurant located on Post Street in the Theater District/Lower Nob area, with a clean, modern feel reminding us that we are only a couple blocks from Union Square. The menu contains many of the standard nigiri options, as well as a handful of specials, and the usual assortment of rolls. There are a couple dozen appetizers and salads, along with a few standard cooked items from the kitchen, such as donburi. However, since sakana is the Japanese word for “fish”, we figured that we would stick to the fish.

Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be a great idea. But hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

Short Exact got things rolling with a classic appetizer, the ankimo ponzu,

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which featured five lobes of monkfish liver sitting atop a pool of the citrus-based ponzu sauce. It doesn’t look bad in the picture, but it just goes to show that even though we may “eat with our eyes first”, we still eat mostly with our taste buds. This dish was not impressive in the least. Excellent ankimo has a rich flavor, along with a smooth, creamy, yet dense texture, and when this particular dish is executed well, the ponzu provides subtle notes of bright citrus to helps to cut the richer liver. The ankimo in our dish, however, had a slightly unpleasant, grainy texture. The flavor was very flat, short-lived, and really only had one overriding characteristic — sickeningly sweet — so it’s probably a good thing that it was short-lived. In addition, the ponzu (which should have a very light, thin quality that complements other ingredients, rather than overpowering them) was too strong, and literally obliterated the ankimo. When we first sat down at Sakana’s sushi bar, we were excited to see ankimo with ponzu on the menu, but needless to say, this appetizer turned out to be a disappointing start to the meal.

Fortunately, the orders immediately following this appetizer fared better. First up were the mirugai and uni:

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The mirugai we had at Sakana was fine — it did not have that wonderfully subtle sweetness, but it was pretty good. The Santa Barbara uni was quite good, though, and easily the best item of the night. These sweet, creamy gonads of the sea urchin (yes, that is actually what uni is) were generously piled atop a bed of rice, and wrapped in nori, in the typical gunkan style. Santa Barbara uni is capable of delivering a wonderfully subtle yet sweet flavor which this particular specimen did not fully exhibit, but this was still a good example, as it was pleasantly sweet, without a hint of bitterness. Though we couldn’t have known it at the time, in retrospect, we probably should’ve just ordered this a few more times and called it a night.

Our last three orders for the night were awabi (abalone), aji (Spanish mackerel), and kohada (gizzard shad):

tb_sakana_awabi.JPG

The awabi — which had an unusually tough texture and was quite bitter — was definitely the disappointment of this order. Neither the aji nor the kohada were great, though. Upon ordering the kohada, we were told that only one piece was available, so apparently the sushi chef’s kohada supply was getting to the end. Our one piece of kohada was quite dry and possessed an almost mealy texture. In any case, we were not charged for this piece of sushi, so we won’t complain too much about it. The aji was better than the kohada, but still on the dry side. In all cases, the flavor of the fish was flat, and whatever flavor the fish had was masked by the excessive wasabi spreads that the chef had applied.

To sum up, out of the six items we ordered, we could only call the uni “good to very good.” Three orders (kohada, aji, mirugai) fell into the “average to pretty good” category, and the remaining two orders (awabi, ankimo) were disappointing– not unsafe or unfresh in any way, but definitely lacking in quality and flavor. It seems that “exotic fish” (i.e. fish other than maguro, hamachi, sake, unagi, et al) is not Sakana’s strength, but possibly the rolls or more standard nigiri would be prove to be more successful. (For what it’s worth, when Short Exact visited Sakana, only two people were ordering anything other than rolls: yours truly, and the Japanese man sitting next to us at the bar.)

The service at Sakana is decent: not effusive, but relatively attentive, as our tea cup was kept filled without having to ask. Then again, only a handful of tables were full at the time, so we cannot be sure whether or not this level of service is maintained during busier stretches. The sushi chef did check in with us periodically to see if we wanted to place any more orders, but other than that, he pretty much stuck to making sushi, mostly for the tables. He doesn’t seem to be the talkative type, which is too bad, because one of the main reasons to sit at the sushi bar is to converse with the chef.

Even though we were hoping that Sakana would be more impressive than it turned out to be, we couldn’t call it bad exactly, and we do plan on returning at some point to see if our visit here was a random fluke (no pun intended?) or not. Sakana is not worth going out of your way for, but it does have a very convenient location going for it. Also, the restaurant’s prompt service, the availability of tables without a wait (at least in the early evening hours), and its proximity to several theaters in the immediate vicinity make it a convenient choice for pre-theater dining. Still, if you’re in search of a serious sushi destination, we would recommend looking the other direction.

RATING:

COST:

605 Post Street (near Taylor St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415.775.7644
Hours: Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, 5:00 pm – 12:00 midnight; Fri, 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, 5:00 pm – 1:00 am; Sat, 5:00 pm – 1:00 am; Sun, 5:00 pm – 12:00 midnight.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Nob Hill, Union Square

How to get there: Convenient access via Muni bus lines 2, 3, 4, 27, 30, 45, 38, and 76, or the cable car lines on Powell Street. Sakana is six blocks from the Powell BART/Muni Metro station (Muni lines F, J, K, L, M, N, and T).